One of the biggest victories of the Legislative session for school-reform and charter school advocates was the passage of HB 1368, which will provide public schools with greater flexibility by waiving certain regulations and rules. Naturally, any legislation which erodes the centralized and stagnant authority of public education draws the ire of teachers unions, so the Louisiana Federation of Teachers is suing to challenge the constitutionality of the law.
The LFT’s arguments are spurious at best. The central benefit of the new law is that it realizes a monolithic education policy does not suit the unique and disparate needs of schools around the state, which require different policies to account for differences in student demographics and background. By waiving rigid policies, schools have the flexibility to take the necessary actions to accommodate their students, such as altering class sizes, teacher evaluation processes, and curriculum. The fact that some of these flexibilities resemble those of charter schools incenses teachers unions. As a result, the LFT’s spin machine is at work.
In the Times-Picayune’s coverage of the LFT’s lawsuit, the TP writes, “The teachers group wants a Baton Rouge district court to rule that the Legislature cannot abdicate its law-making authority by effectively allowing the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to pick and choose which laws local schools have to follow.” This is a very disingenuous interpretation of the law. The LTF is insinuating that this law will allow BESE to make arbitrary policy decisions against the schools’ wills. This is a misrepresentation. HB 1368 allows school districts to make their own decisions about what is best for their students and has explicit safeguards to ensure that proposed waivers are neither frivolous nor egregious.
Applications for waivers must be accompanied by thorough explanations of why they are needed and estimated student benefits, and the application must be signed off by a majority of the school’s teachers and the approval of the local school board. The application must then be approved by the state education board, so the process to receive a waiver is a meticulous one. In contrast, traditional public schools currently have little or no say in which laws they must follow; the state “picks and chooses” these regulations for the schools without regard to their benefits or detriments.
The central planning that typifies American public education has impeded progress and accountability in schools. Granting local oversight and decentralizing the state education board’s control allows schools to become more effective and responsive to the needs of their students and communities.